After seven months of brutal fighting on the front line, Ukraine’s control over the besieged city of Bakhmut is teetering. Will a Russian victory translate to a strategic advantage? Beyond the frontline, Russia pulled a wildcard and showcased the effectiveness of six hypersonic missiles, causing widespread damage to civilian infrastructure. Out of the ashes of occupation, a blacksmith is transforming the scraps of war into artistic masterpieces. On the international front, an unconfirmed U.S. intelligence report alleges pro-Ukrainian groups were behind the Nord Stream pipeline attack last year. With the invasion entering its second year, the European defense industry is looking to pad its profit margins. Will this help the rich get richer?
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All this and more in this week's newsletter!
Ukraine Unlocked is a weekly newsletter providing a roundup of the cultural, political, and economic developments in the country. We hope to provide students, professionals, and the casual reader with greater insight into Ukraine as its role on the global stage evolves throughout the 21st century.
Pipes for the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Credit: Pedant01 via Wikimedia Commons
Who Did It?
Nord Stream Sabotage:Last year, unknown assailants sabotaged the Nord Stream pipeline, which supplied western Europe with Russian natural gas. The damage to the pipeline is estimated to cost $500 million, but for the past year intelligence services have been unable to identify who carried out the attack. The operation required a high degree of planning and execution, as the strike took place where the pipeline runs along the floor of the Baltic Sea, meaning that experienced divers placed the explosive devices on the pipeline. Now, according to an unverified report published by the New York Times, the intelligence community in the U.S. believes that pro-Ukrainian groups are to blame for the attack. Still, it is not known if the group had support from Kyiv or whether the Zelenskyy administration knew about the operation.
Kyiv’s Refute:In response to this news, Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to President Zelesnkyy, said that Ukraine had nothing to do with the attack. Meanwhile, Kremlin officials questioned the validity of the U.S. investigation and called on the U.N. to investigate the explosion.
U.S. Response: National Security Council spokesperson Andrienne Watson said on Wednesday that she cannot verify the New York Times Report and that any anonymous sources did not have permission to speak on behalf of the U.S. government.
A Norwegian photographer does a photoshoot with a Ukrainian national.
The Kalush Orchestra Group. Credit: LTV Ziņu dienests via Wikimedia Commons
Kalush U.S. Tour, Part II: Ukrainian band Kalush is back in the U.S., stopping in five different cities in hopes of spreading awareness and raising funds for the war effort back home. The tour will culminate with the group performing at the famous SXSW Festival in Austin, TX. Prior to coming to the U.S., the band played throughout Europe, allowing them to raise a total of $1.6 million to purchase combat drones for the Ukrainian military.
From Ashes to Art: One blacksmith is taking the worst parts of the war and transforming them into art. Viktor Mikhalev lives in the Russian-occupied region of the Donetsk Oblast where friends and neighbors drop off used shells and broken weapons, the raw materials for his art. Mikhalev uses his background in welding to turn the tools of war into “the flowers of war.” Mikhalev’s work has been featured in museums in the region but is also prominently displayed on his fence at home.
The Kinzhal's first appearance in Moscow in 2018. Credit: The Office of the President of Russia via Wikimedia Commons
Over-hyped Spring Offensive?
Largest Barrage Since January: On Thursday, Russia launched over 80 missiles at cities across Ukraine, killing six and leaving over 150,000 homes without electricity. The attack also disconnected the Nuclear Power Plant in Zaporizhzhia from the electrical grid for nearly 12 hours. Rafael Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that the attack “again demonstrated how fragile and dangerous the situation is” for Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
Hypersonic Missile: While Ukraine’s air defense systems downed half of the missiles, the attack included six hypersonic Kinzhal missiles that are among the most advanced in Russia’s arsenal. Currently, Ukraine’s air defense systems are unable to intercept Kinzhals missiles. Russia has used the Kinzhals before, but this was the most in one attack.
Controlled Withdrawal: On March 7th, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) noted that Ukrainian forces completed a “strategic retreat” from eastern Bakhmut, with Russia’s military controlling about half of the city. The city has been under siege since August. The ISW believes that if Russia captures the town, the military will be incapable of moving beyond the city. Russia’s troops are depleted and under-supplied. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Secretary General, echoed the sentiment and said Bakhmut’s capture would not “necessarily reflect any turning point of the war.”
🥊 Human Moment:🥊
Ukrainian boxer Alexander Usyk says he is willing to fight Tyson Fury in return for a donation to
A group of teenagers playing football in pre-war Velka Novosilka, circa 2016. Credit: Donetsk Oblast Administration via Wikimedia Commons
Zooming in on the Front Line
War Zone Envelops the Ordinary: Velyka Novosilka, a small city with a pre-war population of 5,000 citizens, has been overrun by the war. Located just 75 miles north of Mariupol, the town only has about 350 inhabitants left, all of whom are over the age of 40. Younger people either fled, or Russian forces killed them.
Underground Life: Most remaining residents band together and live in large groups in basements to avoid Russian artillery. One basement houses 39 people alone. They cook hot meals for lunch and then eat canned foods for dinner. Front-line volunteers help the residents survive by bringing food and medical supplies.
Looking to lend support to Ukraine? Below are some ways you can help:
Help forPEACE, which seeks to connect foreign donations with on-the-ground organizations in Ukraine
Rheinmetall Group logo. Credit: Rheinmetall via Wikimedia Commons
Europe’s Profit Margin
Defense Dollars: Europe’s defense industry has been booming since Russia invaded Ukraine last year. Since September, the STOXX Europe Total Market Aerospace and Defense index, which includes the 25 largest defense contractors in Europe, has grown by 41% and outperformed the benchmark rate by 18%. BAE Systems, the defense contractor with the largest revenue in Europe, saw their stock prices increase by 55% over the last year.
The Rich Getting Richer? Now that the E.U. has verbally agreed to provide $2 billion in ammunition to Ukraine, the defense companies are ready to capitalize even more. For example, Germany’s largest arms manufacturer, Rheinmetall, hopes to open a $200 million tank factory in Ukraine. The giants of Europe’s defense industry see the war as an easy route to bolster the linings of their pockets.
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